To be honest, 99% of my growth as a photographer came from side projects. Hell, I wouldn't be a photographer if it wasn't for a side project I did while I was a designer.
We've all heard the importance of side projects, but do you believe it? Perhaps an overview of the side projects I did and the trajectory it sent me down will help kick you in the arse to start your side project.
2010: An image a day
When my family moved to Miami, I stepped away from design and into photography. My business was slow and I needed to make the most of this season.
OBJECTIVE: To learn how to use my camera in manual mode, and learn lighting.
WHAT I LEARNED: Foundational knowledge of off-camera lighting; developed a love for dramatic imagery (you'll see this trend throughout this post); knew my way around my camera.
HOW IT HELPED: Understanding how to light subjects, paired with my love of drama, set my aesthetic apart from the rest of the local family and wedding photographers.
2012-2015: Melanie, my Muse
Over the span of a few a hair appointments I literally fell in love with my stylist. Yes, she was beautiful, but what struck me more was her love for others, her quick acceptance and affirmation of people, and ability to courageously speak her differing opinions. Melanie inspired me in more ways than I could count. And so I offered a free photography session - which ended up being 4 over the course of three years
OBJECTIVE: Push my knowledge of long exposure + light
WHAT I LEARNED: How to use more than one light; characteristics of different light modifiers; tricky in-camera tricks (all of those effects were made in camera).
HOW IT HELPED: Understanding how to intentionally sculpt light plays a huge factor in everything I do today. Which modifier, gel, direction are all solutions I have to land on in each shot. These shoots furthered my understanding. All of this is on top of the cash money I got from gigs that sprung from these shoots.
2014: One Light
I finally made the jump from project management to commercial photography - with no clients. It was time to boogie.
OBJECTIVE: Create content that was "me."
WHAT I LEARNED: Reinforced that I love dramatic, dark imagery; compositing imagery; distilled imagery into a graphic statement
HOW IT HELPED: At this point it had been four years since I heavily used Photoshop. Compositing these elements together helped me learn how to produce intricate one-off images - a skill I now use daily.
2014-15: Construct Supply Co
At Creative South I met designer Peter Deltondo who wanted to start a collateral mockup business and approached me to gauge my interest to join his side project. I was all in.
OBJECTIVE: Style and photograph blank collateral for designers.
WHAT I LEARNED: Styling different materials need special tools/techniques; shooting high depth of field; learned how to shoot tethered.
2016: Super Team Deluxe
With Construct I discovered my love for styling which then piqued a curiosity of building mini-sets. Then Rogie King and Justin Mezzell tapped me on my virtual shoulder to see if I'd like to be part of their side project.
OBJECTIVE: Build mini-sets within the brand of Super Team Deluxe and subject of product photograph.
WHAT I LEARNED: Started paper crafting; crafting mini-sets; how to combine different materials; compositing product photos; concepting sets/messages; pushed lighting techniques - using up to 4 in a very small space.
HOW IT HELPED: Ultimately this has lead me down the path of paper crafting, leaving lifestyle photography (almost) altogether. It has also sharpened my ability to concept and convey messages within one singular images.
At Creative South this year, Rogie shared that he and his mentee, Jodi Carlson, were illustrating a fish a week. This seems challenging, so I wanted in.
OBJECTIVE: Push my abilities in illustrating and translating that into paper.
WHAT I LEARNED: Full-on paper crafting is time intensive; how to combine different papers; use of paint to add character; how to make the most out of depth.
HOW IT HELPED: Teetering on the precipice of full 3-D, the desire to jump was more than I could handle - so I did it. And created:
My Creative South camping scene revealed a passion within me. Staying true to what I wrote in my post, Unearthing Your Niche, I've stopped the Gillustrations project to explore this direction. Each Wednesday I'll post a new 3-D, paper-crafted, space. Aptly named, the project will be called, "Spaces." Enjoying a cocktail of excitement and nervousness, I know I'm on the right trail.
What About You?
You've seen a thread in my personal project. None of them were intented, but are the results of exploring and engaging. What are you doing? Where are you going next? It'll take you further than you'd ever expect.